Monday Practice Report

SEATTLE - After nearly a month without rain, the skies opened up Monday afternoon over Husky Stadium and dropped a healthy dollop of liquid sunshine on Washington's pads practice. Without skipping a beat, the team stayed outside, out-lasted the raindrops, and finished their two-hour workout refreshed.

"I'm glad we got some," Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said when asked about the change in the weather. "We're going to have some before the year is done, so to get some in training camp was good for our guys. It was perfect. It was fine. We didn't change anything for practice."

During the heaviest outpour, the UW quarterbacks and receivers were getting noticeably frustrated. The slippery footballs and slick Husky Stadium field turf made things interesting for the first hour. Once things began to dry out, the offensive skill players found their rhythm.

"They got going," Sarkisian said. "It takes a minute to get used to how you're holding the ball, where you're trying to deliver the ball as a quarterback to help the receivers, and the adjustment for the receivers. I thought they got better as practice went on getting adjusted to it."

"It's kind of all mental," added redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Montana. "You have to relax and not try to overthrow it, like you'd think in the rain. The more relaxed and the more smooth you are, the better it comes out. The harder you try, you can't get a spiral."

Montana seemed to struggle the most of the experienced signal-callers. During the team period, he finished the day unofficially 6-10 for 29 yards, while Keith Price was nearly perfect - going 7-8 for 92 yards. Freshman quarterback Derrick Brown, from Winchester, Calif. struggled to connect at the end of practice, missing all three of his attempts. For all we know, that could have been the first time Brown had ever played in rain.

With Chris Polk still recovering from a knee scope, Jesse Callier had the offensive play of the day, a 53-yard scamper for six. He out-ran safety Nathan Fellner to the north side of the east end zone. Probably the top defensive play was Greg Ducre, who came in unabated for a 7-yard sack - causing UW Corners Coach Demetrice Martin to sky with delight. Even though it looked pretty tame, Martin was more than a little enthused by how things had gone.

"The quarterbacks, obviously the feel of the ball is different and the receivers and the ball carriers…it's a different feel," said UW Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier, when asked how the rain affects his side of the ball. "The ball becomes slippery, and the biggest thing for the quarterbacks is to not overthrow the ball. You have to keep your mechanics. Nick and Keith are already adjusted; they've been around and they've been through the weather a little bit. For Derrick, it's a little bit different. The rest of the guys…for Thomas (Vincent), he grew up here…the local guys, the Northwest guys - they're used to it. The guys from California, the first couple times, it's a little bit of a challenge."

One skill player that is very used to the rain is junior cornerback Desmond Trufant. With Quinton Richardson still out nursing a high ankle sprain, Trufant - the younger brother of Seattle Seahawk Marcus Trufant - is holding things down on the edges. "He's always been a tremendous competitor, he's always been a great worker, first guy on the field, last guy off…works at it," Sarkisian said of Trufant. "What I've noticed this year is that he really believes he's that good. He's playing with the utmost confidence right now - and not in a bad way; in a very good way. He's got the swagger that you need to go out and play corner right now. It's not fake, it's not false - it's genuine. He's making his plays every opportunity he gets, and if he happens to not make a play, he's forgotten it and is on to the next play. I love what he's brought to our training camp; I think he's been part of the reason our team has grown…because of his mentality."

And when it comes to the guys in the trenches, rain is about as big of an annoyance as no seconds at the training table. They notice it, but then they get right back to the task at hand. That showed itself out during the normal practice 1-1's, which were very good Monday. There was a lot of intense competition, especially from the younger players. Leaders like Senio Kelemete and Colin Porter handled their business; true frosh Dexter Charles also showed some grit. After getting worked by fellow frosh Corey Waller, Charles put Waller on the bus, clearing him out a good 10 yards from the quarterback dummy.

"He's a tough-minded kid," Sarkisian said of Charles. "Dexter's a freshman left tackle, that's not an easy thing to do. But he works at it, and I think his future's very bright – whether it's still at left tackle or at right tackle or still inside, I don't know that. But I know that he's got the right mentality, and he's taken to the coaching from Danny (Cozzetto). I think he's going to develop fine for us."

On the other side of the ball, Danny Shelton continues to impress. The freshman defensive tackle from Auburn showed up again Monday, and he went right to work on right guard James Atoe, the redshirt frosh from The Dalles, Ore. During the first rep, Shelton just swam right past Atoe, made it look like the 6-foot-6, 337-pound Atoe was standing still. Atoe was having nothing of it. The next snap, the older Atoe put the younger Shelton straight on his backside, eliciting cheers from his fellow OL. Shelton was undeterred, and came back to beat at least two other offensive linemen before the period was up. He's showing some stamina, and he's also showing more moves than just the basic bull rush.

"I thought Danny had a nice scrimmage on Saturday," Sarkisian said of Shelton. "It's hard – you run 100 plays, and there's so much stuff going on, it's hard to appreciate a nose tackle. But he had a nice scrimmage on Saturday. He was a real factor. He's really only getting better and better and better. That's what should happen, and it should happen even more now into Week 3. The installation is basically complete, now we can really focus on his fundamentals and his technique. And it's showing up, definitely."

As well as Shelton has showed through the first two weeks of fall camp, Sarkisian is not going to put any pressure on the young defensive tackle to shoulder more than he can handle at this point in his young career. "I know this, I'm not going to put a ceiling on him, you know, lower the standards and say: ‘This is what we expect because you're a freshman.'," he said. "But I'm also realistic to understand the fact that they're freshmen, and they don't all have to be freshman All-Americans, either. I'd just like them to play. And hopefully as coaches, we can get them in the positions to do the things that they do well so that they can have some success and still be developing their confidence on the field. Even when they make mistakes, even when they get blocked or drop a pass or whatever it is, they can bounce right back and keep playing and being the players that they're capable of."

Speaking of baby steps, Sarkisian is keeping his season expectations equally modest. Can't win them all unless you win the first one, and that's all the third-year head man is looking at right now. "We obviously have the goal to get to 1-0," he said, matter-of-factly. "We have never been there before as a program, at least since we've been here, and so to get to 1-0 is a great goal. And then to play really good football in what I refer to as the pre-season, against Hawaii in Week 2, and then play a sound football game against Nebraska in Week 3. I think that when I look back to the last two years, especially last year, I don't know that we played great football in the preseason. It was a little spotty. We weren't at our best versus BYU, and we obviously weren't at our best versus Nebraska.

"So the goal for us here is, in these first three, is to get to the point where we're playing consistent football, with good effort, so that when we kick into Pac-10 play, we understand the style of play that it takes to help us with the consistency I've been talking about. I don't want to have that lull again in the middle of the season. We play two new opponents who we haven't played before in Utah and Colorado, and I guess the only difference there is that we just don't know them as well as we know Oregon or Oregon State or Cal or Stanford or SC or whoever that is. So that factor's going to be a little bit different."


Notes:
Injury Update: Chris Polk, Quinton Richardson, and Jordan Wallace were all at practice, but were in street clothes.  Polk and Richardson were walking around with very slight limps, but hard to tell that there's anything wrong with them at this point. Players like Taz Stevenson and Semisi Tokolahi continued to ramp up their workload, participating in 1-1's, and Stevenson even featured in some of the practice-ending team session.

Nice Punter Problem to Have: Sark said earlier in camp that he would have a punter solution decided by the end of last week, but he confirmed today that he's still going to take his time in trying to figure out who is No. 1 between Kiel Rasp and Will Mahan - and he said he could also envision a scenario where both could be used, based on the situation at hand. "Both are just bombing the ball," he said of Rasp and Mahan. "We'll get to them as we head into game week as to what the plan's gonna be. But I think they'll be a role for both of them, depending on where we are on the field and different things."

More Special Teams Updates: Freshman WR Kasen Williams worked early with the punt returners in practice, eventually teaming with Devin Aguilar and Cody Bruns. Speaking of Bruns, he was not the main holder during Erik Folk's kicking period; that job went to William Chandler. Bruns was right there, so presumably they were just looking at giving another holder some meaningful reps.

Breaking it down with Nuss: I spoke after practice with UW Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and I asked him what he thought of Saturday's scrimmage. "I thought offensively, our offensive front played extremely well," he said. "I thought they worked really well as a unit, they did a great job of picking up all the blitzes, and did an excellent job with communication. They have to continue to grow…there's still communication issues, as there are any time early on in the season, but I was really, really proud of that group."

So according to Nussmeier, what are the key things the offense needs to clean up during this last week of fall camp? "I think there's two things," he said. "One, we have to increase our attention to detail and become detail-oriented within the system. For us to fire on all cylinders, everybody has to be doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing at the right time. And the other thing is that we have to play consistently. We can't play in short stretches; you have to be able to play consistently for four quarters. You always hear people talk all the time about you have to put together a four-quarter game. And that's the goal."

Now that this is his third year at Washington, is he starting to see the fruits of their hard work? "I think every year is different, I think every team is different - every team has their own identity," he said. "But one thing I notice about our team in general is that our team speed has increased drastically."


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